I stood in line for at least a half-hour to talk to my sons fourth grade teacher during the annual open house last fall. Parent after parent paraded before her to hear another doting rendition of Your sons a wonderful student or Your daughter is so pleasant to have in class. Then it was my turn.
As I identified myself, the teacher took a deep breath and smiled at me. Im so glad you came tonight, she began, because, let me tell you ... Then she began to tell me.
I felt like I was in school again. She proceeded to tell me how Adam liked to talk a lot and entertain the others in his class. She told me how he liked to negotiate with her. And she said he liked to work the room when he would arrive at school in the morning.
He liked to work the room? I didnt realize until later what that was all about. One day, Adam asked me to get onto the Internet for him. He was looking for new patterns so he could create new figures out of large beads and some kind of silky thread. It turns out he was selling them to fellow students as key chains or knapsack decorations. Indeed, he was an entrepreneur.
Dr. Cindy Iannarelli, this months cover story subject, adamantly contends that all children hold within them an entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit which we slowly sap from them as we mold them into conforming adults. Family business owners in particular, she says, should be trying to reverse this process as they raise potential successors to their businesses. And what better way to do it than to start teaching them about the business as early as 3 years old?
Your business is like a classroom, Dr. Cindy stresses. Your child will have so many more life skills that most people arent teaching in the classroom.
Frankly, Id be tempted to take this whole notion a big step further. I think we could stand to learn a lot from our kids in business, if wed just take the time. Here are five things my wayward son taught me about business, without the advantage of having a graduate business degree.
Know what your customers want. He realized quickly that boys usually preferred lizards and alligators, while the girls liked the bumblebees and butterflies. So he made what they wanted, and they paid him either in cash or in milk, pencils or yo-yos.
Manufacturing efficiencies can save you money. He knew exactly how many beads each figure required and how much the beads cost. So he looked for sales and clearances to get the cheapest beads. And he would search the Internet for new patterns for the same figures, which required fewer beads.
Research and development are important. He was constantly trying new patterns and remaking the same patterns with different-colored beads to see what sold best.
You must be willing to change with the times. When his lizards lost popularity and that raunchy South Park cartoon became the elementary school rage, he searched the Internet for South Park character patterns and began making them. He wasnt hung up on what worked in the past.
You have to be willing to work the room. It wasnt enough for him to have a cool beady product to sell. He had get out there and, as the teacher disdainfully put it, work the room. Thats what sales and success are all about.
Now, I could have encouraged him further. I could have helped him design the packaging. I could have talked to him about distribution and pricing and every other teaching opportunity his little venture could have provided us. Instead, I told him about my open house experience. I blew a perfectly good opportunity to teach him about business and entrepreneurship such opportunities that are important if youre to raise a diligent successor to your company.
And I told him to quit working the room. Fortunately for me, he doesnt always listen.